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An Inside Look

at the Chinese
Forging Industry
Zhang Jin Confederation of Chinese
Metalforming Industry; China
We are privileged to bring you three exclusive
essays written by the secretary general of the
Confederation of Chinese Metalforming Industry
(CCMI). These editorials deal with the current
Chinese forging industry, where it is headed and
its drive toward achieving advanced
manufacturing status.

The State of Chinas Forging Industry


The forging sector in China has made remarkable progress since
1978. Currently, the annual output of functional forgings reaches
11 million tons, occupying 39% of global production. Taking
steel balls, hand tools, medical devices and standard components
into account, the production increases to 16.5 million tons. With
roughly 400,000 employees, China is the largest global producer of
forgings with the most complete forging capacity.
Due to market and government pressure, Chinas forging
industry is striving to produce forgings with higher precision,
higher efficiency, more pervasive digitalization, lighter weight and
lower energy consumption. Many excellent achievements have been
seen in forging-machinery R&D and manufacturing, application of
simulation, IT application and especially precision forging.
In certain fields, such as nuclear-power and automotive, select
forgings from China have been the leader among global peers.
Chinas forging producers are exploring overseas markets and
increasing exports every year.
Similar to its global counterparts, this industry is facing a
shortage of technical engineers and laborers, especially young
workers. In fact, the problem is more serious due to rapid economic
expansion in China. Forging robots and automation have been a
highlight and a new investment trend in the past three years.
Most Chinese forging companies are small- and mediumsized, and their bargaining position is weak compared with
strong upstream material suppliers and downstream users. Even
the sharp steel price decreases in recent years were deducted by
the users. The automobile industry is a case in point. Following
Volkswagen China in April 2015, every manufacturer dropped
prices by 5-15% to reduce inventory. As a result, automobile
production may maintain slight growth, but general profit
24 April 2016

decreases sharply along the whole chain.


High costs of forging machinery and low profits have hindered
technological updating and innovation in the past four years.
Moreover, stricter requirements from the government on energy
saving, lightweighting and environmental protection add a heavy
burden. Since the depression began in 2011, many producers are
struggling to survive or grow because production capacity for
normal product far exceeds real demand.
Although Chinas forging industry has built up a complete
production chain and mastered many forging technologies, the
biggest difference compared with advanced countries is the huge
gap between the best forging companies and the rest, which means

This highly automated forging line is one of Chinas most advanced.

An Inside Look at the Chinese Forging Industry

A ring-rolling shop in China.

Seamless rolled rings come off the production line.

more industry consolidation is necessary.


The former can afford huge investment for the best machinery,
automation, tooling and heat treatment, as well as good welfare
for employees. Leaders of the latter companies usually a poorly
educated first-generation founder would not be able to face
poor conditions as well as before. Worse is that their children
dont want to be part of this noisy, tiresome and dirty business.
Competition will be fierce, and cooperation will continue to be
difficult among forgers.

Work is still needed in the following areas: equipment research


and capability, reliability, productivity per worker, business
management and marketing. The bad economic conditions force
forging companies to pay more attention to management and
marketing to reduce cost and increase profit.
Chinas forging companies started from a very low point, and
they are still struggling for equal payment for equal quality, even
domestically. Producers are usually required to sell the forgings
10-20% cheaper than overseas counterparts. Since labor cost

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has increased significantly and Chinas real tax


burden is higher than any other country, its very
difficult to sell lower-priced forgings.
It is also very difficult for China-produced
forgings to enter the supply chain for Japanese
and Korean cars. The true reason is not related
to technology, price and quality. It is basically an
undisguised technology or market barrier.
CCMI will organize ChinaForge Fair twice
in 2016. It will be held June 2-5 in Dongguan,
Guangdong province, to serve South China and
Sept. 21-24 in Beijing to serve North China.
This fair will showcase and introduce the
latest technologies, business management and
products to help Chinese forging companies
better compete globally.

Automation, Intelligent
Manufacturing in Chinas DieForging Industry
Automation in Chinas die-forging industry
began in the 1970s. It aimed to reduce labor
intensity, enhance productivity and improve the

Forge-shop overview Courtesy of Chongqing Qingling Forging Co., Ltd.

quality of forgings. Instead of effectively reducing labor cost, however, automated


manufacturing seriously affected productivity and profit due to its unstable
performance. The huge investment didnt bring obvious benefits. That was why
automation was not popular before 2000.
Chinese die forging steadily grew through the 1990s. During that decade,
automobile production increased to 2 million from 1 million. From 2000 to 2009,
production took a great leap forward to 13.7 million.
The forging industry is less attractive to workers who were born in the 1980s
and 1990s. Companies in east China must pay each worker $8,000-15,000 per year

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An Inside Look at the Chinese Forging Industry


(including salary, tax, insurance, etc.) on average. Even so, they
could not keep the young workers long enough.
Due to increasing salaries and strict quality demands, dieforging companies must turn to automation. According to
incomplete statistics, 30-40% of die forgings are produced on
automatic/semiautomatic lines or single integrated automatic
presses. It is estimated that fully automatic lines occupy less than
3% of all the forging lines in China, but the rate is increasing.
The current problem is that many forging orders are of multiple
varieties and small batches, which means it is more economical
and reliable to continue to use human power than automation.
Meanwhile, forging automation is more and more reliable
thanks to mobile information technology (IT) and big-data
technology. In addition, the Chinese government and industry
organizations are encouraging the application of automation and
intelligent manufacturing.
In 2015, the Chinese forging industry faced its worst crisis
with excess capacity and over-competition, and about 50% of
companies were under deficit. Automation in die forging is still
in the initial stage in China, and many forging companies are
considering increasing their competitiveness with this new method.
I have the following opinions on automation and intelligent
manufacturing:
For the moment, a lot of forging companies are evaluating
the cost and benefit of automation. It is more complex and
expensive than many forging owners expected because the
order, product structure, die, press, etc. have to be modified to
implement automation. Even so, I believe that real investment
will boom after the Chinese economy rebounds.
For some top companies, automation is not nearly enough
to enter the international market. Intelligent manufacturing
is a higher-level production method. It is a complete turnkey
solution, and intelligence is fully applied in each link of
the whole process chain. Leading companies are currently
preparing for intelligent manufacturing.

To realize intelligent manufacturing in die forging, it is


necessary to collect, analyze and use vast production and
technology data. German and Japanese companies are doing
this well. CCMI is cooperating with some domestic private
companies to use this technology.
Modern management technology and methods, such as
mobile IT and modern management software, must be
involved in intelligent die-forging production.
The key point is high-quality labor, especially workers born
after 1980 with higher education. Environment and facilities
must adapt to workers safety demands, behavior habits and
culture ideology.
CCMI is one of the active participants and promoters of this
great process. The yearly MetalForm China exhibition and various
activities, monthly seminars and conferences are perfect ways
to promote new technology and push the progress of intelligent
production forward.

Chinas Forging Industry: Moving Forward


From 2000 to 2011, the machinery manufacturing industry
in China increased annually by at least 15%. For example,
automobile production was 2.07 million in 2000, and it was 23.72
million in 2014, with automobile forgings amounting to 4.98
million tons in 2014. Both the owners and employees of forging
companies benefited significantly during that golden decade.
The Chinese economy has become weaker since 2012. However,
it is widely anticipated that it will rebound in 2016. Forging
companies are facing consecutive years of profit downturn and
increasing labor costs, even in the midst of the roaring automobile
forging sector.
Before 2011, forging companies devoted exclusive attention to
enhancing output and were proud of being able to domestically
produce a new forging that substituted for imported goods.

Heat Treating in China

Arlen Luo Editor, Industrial Heating China


ince the 1980s, the automotive, mechanical equipment,
aerospace and aviation, rail transit, wind power and
nuclear power industries in China have developed rapidly,
as has demand for the necessary assemblies and basic parts that
feed these industries.
Meanwhile, the existing stock of heat-treat equipment in
China is comparatively backward and badly in need of upgrade.
Motivated by energy conservation, consumption reduction,
environmental protection and cost reduction, the way forward
for heat treatment in China is to focus on developing a
specialized and networked commercial heat-treating industry.
In total, there are more than 10,000 heat-treat facilities in
China, about 3,000 of which are privately held commercial

28 April 2016

facilities. Most of the 300 largest are in


the Yangtze River Delta (e.g., Shanghai,
Zhejiang province, Jiangsu province) and Pearl River Delta (e.g.,
Guangdong province).
Additionally, priority will be given to the development
of advanced processes such as step isothermal quenching,
intensive quenching, gas nitrocarburizing, ion nitriding, sealed
multipurpose furnaces and high-pressure gas-quenching (HPGQ)
vacuum furnaces.
I believe that there will be more and more professionalized
and networked heat treaters and well-known companies in China
in the coming years.
Arlen Luo can be reached at nsmchina@126.com

An Inside Look at the Chinese Forging Industry


Forgers are now more practical and realistic and are focusing on profit and cash flow
because account receivables are really high and dangerous in the industrial chain.
The output of forgings in China amounted to about 10 million tons in 2013, including 6.4 million tons of closed-die forgings and 3.6 million tons of open-die forgings.
Many companies own advanced and complete forging lines and technologies with global
competitiveness. Meanwhile, too many friction screw presses (>400 ton, more than 8,900

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sets) and drop hammers (>650 sets) are


still in operation. We are glad to see that
new investment is focused mainly on
high-level machinery and automation
with higher efficiency and lower energy
consumption.
In 2011, the Confederation of
Chinese Metalforming Industry (CCMI)
organized over 100 experts to write the
China Forging Industry Technology
Roadmap, which proposed the
following:
By 2020, the output of cold/warm
precise forgings should reach at least
12% of closed-die forgings.
Accuracy should reach to grade 7 or
higher from the current grade 5.
Energy consumption for producing
each ton of forgings shall be reduced
by 10% (compared with the unit
energy consumption of 0.44 ton of
standard coal equivalent per ton
forging in 2011).
Material utilization shall rise 3-5%.
Manufacturing costs of each part shall
drop 20%.
Annual output per employee shall
increase 30%. In 2011, the output was
65.64 kg per hour per forge operator.
In 2013, CCMI was finally able to
publish a book series entitled Forging
Technologies after three years of work.
This series systematically summarizes
forging theories and technologies of
process and equipment.
Chinas forging industry also has
several unique technologies. These
include roll forging front beams;
producing camshafts and large bearing
balls with cross-wedge rolling technology;
and integrated forming technology for
high-precision forgings.
In general, Chinas forging industry is
progressing in the direction of providing
complete solutions that integrate materials
technology, forming technology and postprocessing.
Author Zhang Jin is the Secretary
General of the Confederation of Chinese
Metalforming Industry. He can be reached
at zhj@chinaforge.org.cn.